Efficient Enumeration and Allocation of Tasks (with respect to Zmag)
By Jonathan Schindler at Feb 23, 2009
One of the primary issues I've noticed while reading Zblogs and sustainers comments is one of frustration. Perhaps to Michael, that frustration seems directed at staff, but I think the frustration is less personal than that. I think the frustration comes from reading content that compels one to do something, that makes one feel a sense of urgency, yet at the same time, not having an easy way of doing something. Let's face it, we're not all Michael Albert, or Noam Chomsky. We can't all dedicate our lives 24/7. We can't all be directly involved in community organizing efforts, either due to time or talent. However, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done, that goes beyond protesting, or writing, or blogging, etc. This is where efficiently listing tasks comes in. Let's show an example.
Let's say, for the sake of example, there is a volunteer tab on Zmag site. When the user clicks on this tab, they will see a list of tasks. The tasks could be entered in by any number of people, by ZStaff, by Z groups, by individual users, etc. We can decide upon (and discuss the merits of) any number of ranking systems for tasks. For example, the tasks could be displayed chronologically, by sustainer vote (sustainers could vote for priority), by staff vote on priority, or some other weighted voting method of priority. Tasks could be grouped by site section. We could use such standard motivation tactics as having a progress meter for tasks. The tab itself could list the total number of tasks completed, and the total number of tasks available. Tasks could also be tied to a time or place (i.e. help organize protests in Saint Louis March 25th, etc). So, for example, site participation could be one task, which is red when few users have zspace pages, but gets greener when more people participate. Zmag could have it's own default set of tasks for sustainers (i.e. fill out your zspace page, post a blog, etc.) There could also be groups, as there are now, that focus on a narrower set of tasks.
Beyond this, we could use the volunteer page as a way of thanking people who have volunteered. We could have a ranking system that shows who has done what (yes, some people get motivated by this). We could make such efforts as the work done by zmag-it more high profile, as it should be.
But, you might ask, why tasks? We've asked users to fill out their zspace pages, and they haven't done that, so won't giving them more stuff to do make the problem worse? My answer is no. First, users may not like blogging, they may feel that spending a lot of time maintaining a Zspace account is not the best use of their time or skills. They may have all sorts of inclinations and predispositions that make them say "no". But, let's say you list a bunch of tasks, and some of those tasks require very little time for some users. Let's say the tasks are diverse. I'm a programmer for example, does it make sense to have me blogging, when perhaps my contribution as a programmer would be more valuable? Someone else might be a translator, and again, wouldn't it be nice for their talents to be used? Let's say that we can chart our efforts, and see them going somewhere. I think that this is much more gratifying. I think that it also speaks to the diversity of desires that people have. If huge software projects like the linux kernel can distribute tasks this way, then why not our own efforts?
Finally, this also speaks a bit about interface design. I get no feedback about the state of the site when I go to zmag.org, other than reading articles asking for more participation. I can't tell by a glance which parts of the site are stagnant, which have change, etc. What if the important tabs (or other areas) of the sight were green, and the less important areas some other color? What if there were progress meters showing our participation? I know it sounds cheesy, but I think those united way donation graphs work. I think there is something enormously motivational about seeing a small contribution, multiplied by many people, create a larger work. I have the feeling that a lot of Z users, aren't necessarily seeking attention. They don't want to be big time activists right away, it's too big of a leap. It starts with something small. And, it starts with giving users feedback beyond words.
Distributing tasks is definitely how I plan on getting ZCC off the ground. After spending all weekend trying to get everything I wanted to done, I said to myself, "Screw it, we have a lot of people, why not just say what I think would be cool, and if people want to do it, they can sign up, if not, I'll do it myself later." And, what I've noticed is if I say, I have these 10 tasks that are small, that need to be done, the people in ZCC at least, seem more than willing to do it. I mean, if we're going to nag people, at least we could make it look cool and fun at the same time. :)